Fundraisers need to be more involved in policy-making or risk the government “losing the plot” when it comes to issues that affect the sector, the chair of the Institute of Fundraising’s policy advisory board said yesterday.
Mike Wade (pictured), director of fundraising and communications at the National Deaf Children’s Society, told delegates at a debate on the impact of the election, hosted by the Institute of Fundraising, that if fundraisers do not engage with developing policy they run there is a danger they will end up with bad policies that will damage fundraising.
Wade also warned that: “Whoever wins at the next election fundraisers are going to be operating in the most highly legislated framework we have ever had.”
He said the election presented an “opportunity” for fundraisers, but that “it is up to us shape the environment we are going to be working in”.
“To the few policy wonks we have got in the audience: we love you to death, you do fantastic work you really help get into the corridors of power," he said. "But unless fundraisers are part of shaping the message there is a real danger of government losing the plot."
He explained that when he became involved with the development of gift aid in 1998 “the thing that really shocked me was that lots of things had been discussed that just weren’t going to work” and that this was because “there wasn’t a single fundraiser around the table”.
Encourage gift aid
The panel, which also included Peter Lewis, chief executive of the IoF; Stephen Bubb, chief executive of Acevo and Andrew O’Brien, head of policy at the Charity Finance Group agreed that the next government should do more to encourage the use of gift aid.
Wade called for a simplification of gift aid, which he said had become too complex "as the bean counters look for anything that could go wrong and impose additional safeguards that are not needed”.
He also said that “for people earning more than £40,000 there isn’t a simple way of donating tax relief effectively” and that it was important to hold on to the principle that “money given for public benefit should not be subject to tax”.
O’Brien said that research from HMRC meant “we know that when people understand it they embrace it”, and suggested more should be done to explain how gift aid works.
“It is important that we don’t end up on the back foot,” he added as “HMRC will keep pushing as far as they can get”, if there is any indication that tax reliefs could be cut back.
Lewis added that: “All that we are asking for is government supports people to give in a tax effective way.” He also said he wanted the government to look again at corporate gift aid to find a way for that relief to given directly to charities.
‘Too much focus on winning contracts’
Lewis told delegates that he thought there was too much focus in the sector on winning government contracts.
He said: “We have had quite a lot of public spending cuts but many of our fellow umbrella bodies still seem rather obsessed with commissioning and how the charity sector can get more contracts in what will be a very severely cut public spending environment.”
Reflecting on the past four years, Lewis added: "The sector managed to align beautifully with even Acevo, NCVO and CAF coming together on Give it Back George to fight for the right for rich people to have tax relief on their donations – that’s the kind of world we live in I guess."
Simon Blake, chief executive of the Brook, who was chairing the debate, added: “If your issue is flavour of the month you have a greater chance of influencing policy, if it’s not flavour of the month you have other fundraising opportunities. I think sometimes we look to government too much.”
Bubb disagreed with Lewis and said commissioning reform was a “huge opportunity for our sector” and that service delivery was core to what many organisation do and highlighted the changes to the health service as an area where there was a particular opportunity for charities.
He also warned that the sector was in danger of falling into a “transparency trap” and reiterated Acevo’s opposition to senior staff and trustees declaring political affiliation.
From a fundraising perspective, Wade suggested that it could damage relations with major donors.